The Paradoxical Relationship Between Beauty and Pain
Beauty and pain have a distinction quite as striking as white and black. Beauty being the refreshing, white summer clouds, the type that uncloaks the mysterious, dazzling luminosity of heaven. While pain being the ominous presence of a midnight crow and the paranoia we feel from our unfamiliarity with the pitch-black skies of the universe. Despite these qualities: beauty and pain, being extreme opposites of human experience, they are much more related than you might ever assume them to be. In fact, it is their dissimilarity which makes them so similar after all.
The relationship between beauty and pain is intensely paradoxical and complex as these two experiences are one of the most deeply felt in humans and vary in nature and intensity depending on the person. These sensations are multidimensional as they involve a range of cognitive, emotional, and perceptual processes to feel them, from the joy of experiencing perfect weather to the pain of dealing with a heartbreak, there is a mixture of physical and psychological components that are intricately involved. Despite this complexity, there also lies a degree of simplicity. Beauty and pain are universal and can be felt and recognized by anyone as they both inflict a raw emotional response that at times can be so overpowering that it is labeled as indescribable. At times when pain is felt, we become our most vulnerable self, whether we show it or not, at that moment we are the most sensitive and fragile a person can be emotionally since you feel as if you have lost all control over your body and life and the only option you have left is to experience this gruesome ordeal. When living through pain, all else becomes a blur and there’s only one thing that’s occupying your mind: your pain, and due to this intense and overwhelming experience you end up becoming more aware of your environment and the people around you which creates this imperceptible emotional unity amongst you and others, even strangers. Solely because you now know how it feels to be in immense pain, when someone else goes through a suffering remotely similar, you naturally feel pity, humility, and empathy since you have subconsciously taught yourself the importance of creating a safe and nurturing environment for yourself and others in order to end all pain. Many physiological responses are activated by pain such as the release of certain neurotransmitters, such as oxytocin, which is sometimes called the "bonding hormone" as it increases feelings of trust, empathy, and connection with others the same way falling in love does. Oxytocin is specifically released at crucial times like these because it reduces the activity of the amygdala – drives the so-called “fight or flight” response – which is intensified when experiencing pain. For this reason, the people around you–who are sharing the same environment as you–start feeling more sacred to you. You start coming to the realization that each person on this Earth, whether you know of them or not, live through heartbreaks, loss, trauma, rejection, failure, isolation, and forever on, making us all more similar to one another than ever before.
These are the times when you feel the most beauty in the world and unity amongst one another. Your pain can never be kept enclosed for eternity, sometimes it will have to show through even a hint on your face, or your voice, or your actions, and that itself ripples out to your surroundings touching everyone around you and giving birth to the feeling of empathy. The textbook definition of empathy is “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another” (Dictionary.com). You might summarize this as simply putting oneself into someone else’s shoes, however, there will be times we can’t relate to another person’s sorrows but the human experience still allows for one to feel (or at least identify with) a similar emotion as theirs, and this is what empathy truly is. There is a common thread that runs through all of us, a shared experience of personal pain or struggle that maybe lies deep without our suppressed memories which connects us on a deeper level as human beings. The classic story of Romeo and Juliet is a timeless tragedy that has served as an example of how humans can find beauty in pain by empathizing with others’ struggles. Despite the heartbreaking nature of the story, people continue to be drawn to it because they can empathize with the characters' intense emotions and the universal themes of love, passion, and sacrifice that are woven throughout the plot although the tragic ending. Art, literature, and drama are all beautified by the aspect of realism and complex human emotions that brings the characters to life, just almost as if they were real, just almost as if they were you and me. We are taught that pain, tragedy, discomfort, and sacrifice are all needed components to strengthen a relationship or even perform as the basis of creating one. Through this intense process we are enabled to be there to relieve someone’s pain – plant a seed in one’s barren mind for one day you will be given the gift to see that flower blossom – and to see them grow into someone more beautiful and resilient from the inside.
No matter how awful and ghastly undergoing pain might be, it will inevitably result in an aesthetic experience of beauty in Nature, from the process of forest regeneration after a wildfire to the spark of compassion in peoples’ minds after a tragedy. Beauty and pain will be eternally intertwined. Whether it be summer’s white, refreshing clouds or the galaxy’s pitch-black skies of nothingness, they both lie above us all, far in the skies, far beyond our control, following a perfectly calculated natural cycle. Almost as perfect as our cycle of emotions – joy and grief, confidence and fear, happiness and sorrow – and the complex yet simple relationship of all, beauty and pain.